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LiveWell Northwest Colorado boosts healthy eating and exercise in local schools

About this story:

After nearly six years, the impact of LiveWell Northwest Colorado’s investment in local communities is becoming clear.

As the initiative sunsets and funding disappears in the coming years, organizers must decide how to use the remaining money to leave a lasting impression on area residents, promoting healthy eating and active living for decades to come.

This is the last in a three-part series looking at the influence LiveWell has had in Routt County.

A March 23 story focused on the impacts of LiveWell in Oak Creek, and a March 30 story described the success of LiveWell's Northwest Colorado Food Coalition.

— Sometimes all it takes is a taste test to change the eating habits of a picky child, or open their mind to a new food or new way to prepare a familiar one.

Setting up tasting tables at elementary schools with seasonally harvested foods or those from every color of the rainbow is one project of LiveWell Northwest Colorado that’s proven popular with local students.

About this story:

After nearly six years, the impact of LiveWell Northwest Colorado’s investment in local communities is becoming clear.



As the initiative sunsets and funding disappears in the coming years, organizers must decide how to use the remaining money to leave a lasting impression on area residents, promoting healthy eating and active living for decades to come.

This is the last in a three-part series looking at the influence LiveWell has had in Routt County.



A March 23 story focused on the impacts of LiveWell in Oak Creek, and a March 30 story described the success of LiveWell’s Northwest Colorado Food Coalition.

“It’s been different themes each year, and it’s about opening up their palates and getting them to try something new,” said Michele Miller, principal of Soda Creek Elementary.

Miller said students might be more likely to try new foods with their friends at school than at the family dinner table, and they may take ideas from the taste tests home and suggest the items to their parents.

Tasting tables were so popular when introduced that LiveWell now uses them to teach students the “Go, Slow, Woah” campaign, which identifies the most and least nutritious foods using green, yellow and red signage.

One example is offering students blueberries, a “go” food, next to a blueberry fruit strip, a “slow” food and a blueberry Pop-Tart, a “whoa” food.

Also on display is the amount of sugar and fat in each, which is an attempt to teach children the reasoning behind why each item is a go, slow or whoa food.

“It was a way to show them there were healthier choices,” said Barb Parnell, coordinator for LiveWell Northwest Colorado.

The menus at some school cafeterias have also embraced “Go, Slow, Woah,” identifying lunchtime options by their nutritional value.

Parnell said teaching healthy eating to Routt County youth is important, as some children aren’t as healthy as adults in the area.

“In our state, our adults are the leanest in the nation, but our kids are the 23rd leanest,” Parnell said.

Body Mass Index data collected by LiveWell revealed that 21.3 percent of Routt County students were overweight or obese during the 2013-14 school year. This year the percentage dropped to 18.1 percent.

The taste tests are one of several school-based initiatives started or funded by LiveWell Northwest Colorado aimed at bringing about lasting change to the eating and exercising habits of children.

Another LiveWell project funded activity decks and fit sticks in local elementary classrooms, each providing ideas for quick movement activities students can perform without having to leave the classroom.

Physical activity, even in short bursts inside the classroom, has significant impacts on the ability of students to learn and retain information, Parnell said.

The evidence is as simple as looking at a brain scan of a student before and after exercising, and seeing the increase in brain activity, Parnell said.

Parnell helped write grants to bring new playground equipment to schools in South Routt and Hayden, and LiveWell also helped fund gardening supplies so students could experiment with growing their own food.

LiveWell also funded a water bottle-filling station in Hayden and South Routt, an addition that helped encourage students to forgo the consumption of any sugar-sweetened beverages, said Kristi Brown, health and wellness coordinator for both districts.

“We saw so much interest in the kids wanting to drink more water,” Brown said.

Not drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is one of the goals of 5210, a LiveWell challenge that asks participants to eat five servings of fruits and veggies a day, limit recreational screen time to two hours, exercise for at least one hour and drink no sugary beverages.

The dispensers were such a success that schools in both districts worked on their own fundraising campaigns for more dispensers, and there are now three in South Routt and two in Hayden.

Brown said LiveWell has been a vital resource for healthy eating and active living campaigns, with Parnell’s “can-do attitude” pushing several ideas along.

“The schools have certainly benefited from Livewell and LiveWell activities,” Brown said. “[When LiveWell ends], it’s going to be necessary for some combination of local organizations and entities to step up and assume some of those responsibilities.”

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow


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